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Rodney Rogers, the Deacons' 'Most Important Recruit'

Posted on October 20 2016

Dan Collins
Winston-Salem Journal
May 8, 2014

The Rodney Rogers of today bears little physical resemblance to the Rodney Rogers of his playing days — until he smiles.

What Rogers was always known for, other than a 6-7, 235-pound body powerful enough to put a Greek god to shame, was a dazzling smile that could light up any room. It almost assuredly will be on full display tonight at the Raleigh Convention Center when Rogers — a star basketball player at Durham Hillside High and Wake Forest who played 12 seasons in the NBA — is inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

“I was shocked when I first heard about it,” Rogers said by phone Thursday. “You hear people talking about it, and I got a call from Coach (Dave) Odom, and I was ecstatic. It is a great honor to be one of the elites of the state of North Carolina.

“I think if I could jump up, I would jump up for joy.”

There’s little to no chance Rogers will ever jump again after a dirt-bike accident in November 2008 left him paralyzed from the neck down. But with the help of his wife, Faye, he has moved on beyond the confinements of his specialized wheelchair and today, besides being active in the McDougald Terrace neighborhood of Durham where he grew up, he helps Faye operate Jazzie’s Trucking LLC.

“Faye is looking after most of that,” Odom said by phone Tuesday. “He owns three trucks, and he’s getting ready to buy another.

“So he continues to live, even though he’s less mobile. His presence is felt beyond his home. He’s got employees working for him. He just continues to live life at its fullest, based on what he can do and what he can’t do.”

According to his wife, what Rogers doesn’t do is spend time feeling sorry for himself.

“I tell people all the time, he’s no different than he was before the accident,” Faye Rogers said phone. “He’s just still. That’s all. He’s just still. He’s the same man. He gets out in his garage, and he works on his cars. He tells everybody what to do.

“He’s just the same ol’ guy. He’ll tell you good and bad things happen to good people all the time. He’s still thankful to God that good things happen to him and bad things happen to him. It teaches him a lesson, and that’s God’s way.”

Odom, who recruited Rogers and coached him all three seasons he spent at Wake Forest, said what never should be forgotten is just what a great player Rogers was. He was the ACC’s rookie of the year in 1991 and player of the year in 1993 after averaging 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. He was also named a second-team All-America by Associated Press as a junior in 1993 before making himself available for the NBA Draft after the season.

He was the ninth player chosen that June, by the Denver Nuggets, and spent the next 12 seasons averaging a combined 10.9 points and 4.5 rebounds for seven NBA teams.

In 1999-2000, he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award after averaging 13.8 points and 5.5 rebounds and shooting 51 percent from the floor and 44 percent from 3-point range for the Phoenix Suns.

“When I introduced his candidacy to the board of directors that vote, I started off by saying, ‘This is not a sympathy nomination,’” Odom said. “(I said), ‘This is a nomination that is justifiable just on these things,’ and then I went through his resume. And there was never any doubt that he would get in on the first ballot, because he deserves it.

“Great high-school player, three sports, great collegiate player, freshman of the year, ACC player of the year, All-America, powerful, improved each and every year. And then of course the sixth man of the year and a great career in the NBA. And then he made his mark off the playing floor as a businessman, starting a couple of companies and doing very well.”

Wake Forest needed talent, and needed it fast, when Odom took over the program from Bob Staak in April 1989. Odom’s first team finished 12-16 overall and 3-11 in ACC play.

But with the influx of a six-player recruiting class of Rogers, Randolph Childress, Trelonnie Owens, Marc Blucas, Robert Doggett and Stan King, the Deacons improved to 19-11 and 8-6 in the ACC and made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in seven seasons.

Over Rogers’ three seasons, Wake Forest was 57-32 overall and 25-21 in the ACC and made the NCAA Tournament all three seasons. His impact transcended his on-court performance.

“I say this with all due respect to all the other players, the most important recruit that we ever signed was Rodney Rogers — because he was the first great one,” Odom said. “He was the first McDonald’s All-America. And signing him was a sign. Randolph (Childress) told me that signing Rodney was the sign that Wake Forest was serious about winning championships. And that’s an important thing.

“All due respect to Tim (Duncan) and all the others, but Rodney was the first. Rodney got us started. And he made it easier for everybody else coming in.”

It won’t be easy for Rodney and Faye Rogers to make it from their home in Person County to Raleigh for the festivities. Little is easy for a person in his condition. But as of Tuesday, he was already picking out his suit for the occasion, and he was smiling.

Rogers has received many other rewards in his life, but none has meant as much as the one he will receive tonight.

“This is the top right here because I’m representing the whole state of North Carolina, and that’s a major award,” Rogers said. “Out of all the people in the state of North Carolina, to be one of the ones picked to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, that’s history.

“I’ll always be known throughout the state of North Carolina for the rest of my life.”

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